Prisoners starts out as a pretty realistic story about youngsters who go missing, morphs into a story of how people react to terrible loss and lust for vengeance-- almost an anti-vigilante story-- and ends up as a fairly standard mystery with a lot of twists and turns.
And, and is common these days, it's less a trail of clues to be unraveled to a logical solution than a story of dogged pursuit of possible suspects, until almost by accident the truth comes out.
It works well at every stage, but it's ugly all along, with an especially unsympathetic character played as such by Hugh Jackman. And nobody is completely sympathetic except Jake Gyllenhaal as the stolid but unspectacular policeman-- and even he isn't particularly attractive.
And the rain and snow are so convincing that for a while I thought I was sitting in a draft.
Jackman's brutal treatment of suspect Paul Dano is shown with what passes these days for restraint, but goes far beyond what we are expected to approve of. And even Viola Davis and Terrence Howard's tolerance of it is a vivid comment on vigilantism. Some of the numerous twists and turns of plot are really unexpected and keep going till the very end.
There has been talk of Prisoners being the Oscar movie of the year. That seems a bit much, but it could easily be the crime movie of the year, with an Oscar for the screenplay.
The hints of a religious theme didn't impress me, but such things seldom do, and in this case they are easily ignored. And the rest is all pretty good.